In the News – Rising Instability Fuels North Korean Rhetoric

In the News – Rising Instability Fuels North Korean Rhetoric

SEOUL—North Korea’s increasingly inflammatory criticism against South Korea is a sign of instability in its authoritarian regime and doesn’t appear likely to end soon, the South’s top official in charge of dealing with the North said.

Since the death of Kim Jong Il in December, the North’s government has been trying to build support for his son Kim Jong Eun and resorted to greater extremes of rhetoric in the process, Yu Woo-ik, South Korea’s Minister of Unification, said in a recent interview.

“The reason why North Koreans criticize South Korea ever more strongly, we believe, is an expression of anxiety,” Mr. Yu said.

He noted that the younger Mr. Kim has begun reshaping the North’s government and, in an environment where jobs are on the line, people and organizations are jockeying for power by showing loyalty to him—and one way to do that is to criticize the South.

The period has also opened an opportunity for China, North Korea’s political ally and economic benefactor, to wield more influence on the regime, said Mr. Yu, who was South Korea’s ambassador to China until taking his current post last September.

0524yuwooik

Reuters

“If China thinks more progressively, it will be more effective in bringing change to North Korea,” he said. “We believe this is the right time to go in that direction.”

China’s relations with North Korea appear to have been strained by a recent incident in which North Korean coastal authorities detained 29 Chinese fishermen from three boats for more than a week. The men were released late last week, but Chinese media were unusually critical of the North in their coverage of the incident.

Mr. Yu said South Korea also remains ready to talk with North Korean officials but noted that the North Koreans have also recently refused to discuss relatively uncontroversial issues such as exchanges between relatives in the two countries.

“If they become more courageous in their choices, we have always kept the door open to dialogue,” Mr. Yu said.

Instead, beginning with the funeral period for Kim Jong Il, the invective that North Korea’s state media and other organizations routinely direct at South Korea and its president, Lee Myung-bak, turned much more harsh.

“Let Us Wipe Out the Lee Myung Bak-led Swarm of Rats in this Land and Sky,” said a recent headline its state-run news agency. “Crazy Lee Myung Bak Accused of Implanting Hostility into Children′s Minds,” another said.

“In my experience, the rhetoric that is coming from the North is unprecedented,” Richard Armitage, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, said at a conference on North Korea issues in Seoul on Thursday.

In a typical pattern, a message issued one day against South Korea by a high-ranking North Korean state body or media outlet is echoed in following days by lower-ranking ones.

Mr. Yu is also a frequent target for the North’s criticism. On Tuesday, the North’s state news agency re-published a screed from Rodong Shinmun, North Korea’s largest newspaper, over Mr. Yu’s recent effort to drum up publicity for a charitable fund to prepare for unification. Mr. Yu had been caught by news photographers making a clay jar to serve as symbolic donation jar.

“The ‘jar for unification’ is actually aimed to raise money needed for the ‘unification under liberal democracy,'” Rodong Shinmun said in criticizing Mr. Yu. North Korea’s government favors unification under which its regime controls the two Koreas.

In the interview, Mr. Yu said, he’s used to the heat. “North Korea criticizes all of my comments, so it is nothing new,” he said.

In the past two months, North Korean criticism has extended to Park Geun-hye, a likely presidential candidate from the ruling conservative New Frontier Party, as well as to several conservative newspapers and other media outlets.

Mr. Yu said the North’s tone will remain strong while government organizations are reorganized by Mr. Kim and his associates.

“I expect this kind of fidelity race will fade away as authority gets stabilized and anxiety is removed,” he said. “This problem will be more easily and fundamentally solved when North Korea reforms in a direction that opens up.”

 

Original articles can be found here.

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